What is it about this soft, chewy candy that’s so transporting? Maybe it’s the packaging: bright, happy colors; wax paper wrappers; pastel boxes depicting beach panoramas. Maybe it’s the sweet creamy taste, or the sticky texture that makes you feel like a kid again. But likely it’s the fact that it’s so steeped in Jersey Shore history to be entwined with the area forever. As the legend goes, an Atlantic City boardwalk peddler’s candy store was flooded by ocean water one day in the late 1880s, and when a child came in asking for taffy, the peddler joked that what he had was “saltwater taffy.”
Like taffy to teeth, the name stuck.
Saltwater taffy, so ubiquitous at the Shore as to be easily taken for granted, might be considered something of a symbol of the Jersey Shore—a shore repeatedly battered and rebuilt, coming back sunnier than ever. Right now, post-Superstorm Sandy, it is striving to get back to that happy-go-lucky image on the taffy box. We’ve recently returned to our own hometown corner of the Shore, still pockmarked with empty waterfront lots and half-demolished houses. It’s not quite there yet.
But the state has made sure the boardwalks are open for business this summer season, and indeed they are. We can only hope the same determination is applied toward the thousands of people who remain homeless. In the meantime, we encourage visitors to go to the newly stabilized, renourished beaches, to stroll the boards and eat all the local seafood and funnel cake they can get their hands on.
And chew the taffy, filled with nostalgia as it is for the carefree days of yore, and the bright hope for a better tomorrow.